As the most adaptable, robust and reliable Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) source of the battalion commander, Reconnaissance and Sniper Platoon (RS PL) has the primary mission of providing information on the enemy and battlespace environment in order to support infantry operations. Primarily conducted Forward of the Forward Edge of the Battlespace Area (FOFEBA), these operations have a critical shaping effect on the entirety of the battlespace. The actions of those force elements operating well forward of any friendly positions, and quite often behind those of the enemy, will continue to have a disproportionate effect to what can be achieved by an element from the fighting echelon of the same size. This disproportionate effect will only be multiplied with the implementation of Plan KEOGH.
This paper will argue that RS PL must adapt to the significant firepower and mobility increase it will receive in Plan KEOGH, and that infantry reconnaissance will be uniquely placed to strike at fleeting targets of operational importance. Furthermore, it will argue that, in the same way that snipers are employed to target High Value and High Payoff Targets (HVT/HPT) with precision fires, reconnaissance elements should be well versed in conducting raids, ambushes and sabotage missions against HVT/HPT where precision fires from snipers are insufficient or inappropriate.
This will be explored by looking at the potential implications of Plan KEOGH for RS PL, as well as RS missions in our primary operating environment.
Limited Offensive Operations and Plan KEOGH
The implementation of Plan KEOGH will see infantry battalions within the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) transformed to mechanised or mounted battalions. This has significant implications for the employment of reconnaissance elements in the battlespace, and provides numerous opportunities and challenges for RS PL. Notably, Plan KEOGH proposes a huge increase in the mobility, protection and firepower available to RS PL.
It is unclear at what distance reconnaissance will be required to occur in the future, but it is almost certain to increase. This will potentially result in a capability gap, which unless filled by RS PL, will mean that the commander will be unable to prosecute opportune targets identified by his ISR collection sources FOFEBA.
No force, outside of Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) is better trained or equipped for this type of task. At the tactical level, the battalion has its nine rifle platoons with which to close with and destroy the enemy; however, these platoons—while the obvious force of choice for manoeuvre in the close fight—will often be unable to strike at fleeting targets of opportunity identified by RS PL, especially given that the range between the reconnaissance element and the fighting echelon is likely to increase in the future. Furthermore, while Cavalry elements have an ability to apply direct fire onto targets if required, they lack the capacity to conduct dismounted operations to the same degree as infantry reconnaissance. This fundamentally inhibits Cavalry’s ability to fill the capability requirement of targeting HVT/HPT at the operational level.
The increase in capability which Plan KEOGH provides, when paired with the outstanding standard of fieldcraft, patrolling and soldiering skills that is the hallmark of reconnaissance platoon, means that RS PL will be uniquely placed to provide a limited offensive capability to the battlegroup commander. In addition to its primary mission of providing information on the enemy and battlespace environment, RS PL should be tasked with striking at fleeting targets of opportunity which may have operational impact on the battlespace. In the same way that snipers are employed to target HVT/HPT with precision fires, reconnaissance elements should be well versed in conducting raids, ambushes and sabotage missions against HVT/HPT where precision fires from snipers are insufficient or inappropriate.
This skillset becomes even more relevant when one considers the theatres that the Australian Army may be deployed to in the near future. The Defence White Paper suggests that the importance of the Indo-Pacific to Australian security cannot be overstated and that the Australian Army must be prepared to conduct operations in that region across the spectrum of conflict. Operating within the indo-pacific will place an extreme emphasis on dismounted operations, due to the highly complex terrain found within the region. As a result, the capacity of RS PL to provide an agile, clandestine force that is able to conduct limited offensive operations well forward of the battlegroup’s fighting echelons is critical.
As the most adaptable, robust and reliable ISR source available to the battalion, RS PL has the primary mission of providing information on the enemy and battlespace environment in order to support infantry operations. This is, and should remain, the most important function of RS PL.
However, with the implementation of Plan KEOGH, as well as the environments that the Australian Army may find itself employed within in the near future, RS PL has the capacity to provide a disproportionate impact on the battlespace by pairing its ability to gather information on the enemy with the ability to prosecute fleeting targets of operational worth. The ability of RS PL to provide an agile, clandestine force with the training and equipment to strike the enemy’s most important assets where he’s the most vulnerable is essential, both now and in the future.
About the author: James Lewis is an infantry officer posted to the First Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment.